The management of regional lymph nodes in patients with melanoma has undergone a significant paradigm shift over the past several decades, transitioning from the use of more aggressive surgical approaches, such as lymph node basin dissection, to the application of minimally invasive sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy methods to detect the presence of nodal micrometastases. SLN biopsy has enabled reliable, highly accurate, and low-morbidity staging of regional lymph nodes in early stage melanoma as a means of guiding treatment decisions and improving patient outcomes. The accurate identification and staging of lymph nodes is an important prognostic factor, identifying those patients for whom the expected benefits of nodal resection outweigh attendant surgical risks. However, currently used standard-of-care technologies for SLN detection are associated with significant limitations. This has fueled the development of clinically promising platforms that can serve as intraoperative visualization tools to aid accurate and specific determination of tumor-bearing lymph nodes, map cancer-promoting biological properties at the cellular/molecular levels, and delineate nodes from adjacent critical structures. Among a number of promising cancer-imaging probes that might facilitate achievement of these ends is a first-in-kind ultrasmall tumor-targeting inorganic (silica) nanoparticle, designed to overcome translational challenges. The rationale driving these considerations and the application of this platform as an intraoperative treatment tool for guiding resection of cancerous lymph nodes is discussed and presented within the context of alternative imaging technologies. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2016, 8:535-553. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1380 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.
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